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Elections in Three States Are Low-Profile, But High-Stakes for Education

If you think the contest for the White House is the only election to watch right now, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi would like a word with you.

Those three states are holding gubernatorial elections, as well as down-ballot contests, on Tuesday. CORRECTION: I should have noted that the Louisiana run-off is not until Nov. 21. I wrote about education policy issues in those states' elections earlier this year. Arguably, the governor's race with the biggest potential impact on public schools is in Kentucky, where Democrat and state Attorney General Jack Conway is facing off against Republican Matt Bevin, a business executive who unsuccessfully tried to unseat U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year. 

Bevin is an opponent of the Common Core State Standards, and although he wouldn't have the power simply to chuck the standards overboard on his own if he were to win the election, his power to appoint members of the state board could ultimately endanger the common core's status in the state. (New state chief Stephen Pruitt, an alumnus of one of the key backers of the standards, Achieve, might have something to say about that.) 

In addition, Bevin has promoted vouchers as well as charter schools, two school choice programs that Kentucky lawmakers have so far resisted. It's unclear, however, exactly how much political capital Bevin would sink into pushing for expanded choice. 

Conway, meanwhile, has mirrored education rhetoric among presidential hopefuls by calling for expanded early-education programs in the state. And he's a foe of vouchers, though supportive of charters under some circumstances.

Further Down South

The top-line issue for education in the Mississippi elections isn't the governor's race, where incumbent GOP Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to cruise to an easy win. It's Initiative 42 and its counterpart, Alternative Measure 42A.

The former is being backed by advocates for higher school funding in Mississippi, which hasn't funded its K-12 finance formula in several years. The initiative specifically would empower the courts to oversee an "adequate and efficient" system of public schools. Conservative lawmakers, riled up by the power that Initiative 42 would give to the legal system, responded by putting the alternative measure on the ballot. Alternative Measure 42A specifies that the legislature maintain an "effective" system of schools, and makes no mention of a K-12 system that's "adequate" or "efficient."

In addition to their concerns about the courts, opponents of Initiative 42 also stress that "effective" schools aren't necessarily showered with cash. Foes of Alternative Measure 42, on the other hand, say it's a trick pushed onto the public by GOP officials who have yet to say exactly how they'll provide for more effective schools. 

Finally, there's Louisiana, where there's a decent chance that outgoing GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal could be replaced by a Democrat. Louisiana House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards has a sizeable lead over Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, according to recent polling. Both are foes of the common core, although the recent elections for the state school board appear to give the standards some measure of safety in the near future, after a very turbulent history over the past year. 

Edwards points out that public schools haven't gotten a lot of help from the state in recent years when it comes to K-12 aid, while Vitter is publicly committed to improved reading skills in the early grades and expanded vocational programs in high school. 

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